What is Linux?

The term "Linux" gets used to mean several different things. That is why GNHLUG is NotJustLinux. The page aims to help explain what people mean when they talk about "Linux".

Linux is a Computer Software System

Most often, when someone speaks of a "Linux system" or "running Linux", they mean a complete, running computer system. It will use the Linux kernel. It will almost always include many GNU programs from the Free Software Foundation, such as the Bash shell, the GCC compiler suite, and the Emacs editor. Most desktop systems will run XFree86 and either the GNOME or KDE environments. Servers will run software like Apache, Samba, MySQL, and other ServerPrograms.

Linux is a complete operating system. It does not need to load on top of other software, such as Microsoft Windows or Apple MacOS. Indeed, in many cases, Linux is used to replace Microsoft Windows or other closed software systems.

In terms of buzzwords, Linux is a multi-tasking, multi-threaded, multi-user, virtual memory, Unix-like, POSIX-compliant, easily secured, easily maintained, operating system. (Wow!)

Linux is a Software Phenomenon

Since the mid-1990s, Linux has become the flagship of a software phenomenon commonly known as "Open Source" or "Free" Software. The two terms are equivalent, and are often abbreviated as FOSS (Free/Open Source Software). The basic principle behind Free Software is freedom. That means the software is free for anyone to use, copy, explore, or modify. Free Software can save you a lot of money, but better still, it gives you computer freedom. If you are new to FOSS, please check out our FreeSoftware topic page for more.

Linux is an OS Kernel

Originally, and in the strictest technical sense, Linux is just an operating system "kernel". The kernel of an OS is the core part of the computer's software set. The Linux kernel serves as the basic interface between your computer's physical hardware and other software programs. The kernel manages and protects memory; it manages your processor, allowing multiple programs to run at once; and it enforces security, keeping one program or user from harming another. The Linux kernel also provides device drivers, which give different pieces of hardware the same abstract appearance. This means that programs do not have to know the details about every kind of hardware in the world; they just need to know how to use the Linux kernel.

If you want to know more about the Linux kernel, what it does, and how it works, please check out our KernelResources page.

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Topic revision: r2 - 2003-06-01 - BenScott

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